From create your own poke bowl stations to event app polls, 2017 was the year we stopped telling people what to do and let them decide for themselves how they wanted to learn, participate and eat. Smart Meetings has been reporting on these changes all year, and following are the trends that stand out to our editors.

1. App Ubiquity

We wrote a lot about AI, VR and AR, but the technology that brought everything together was the almost universal use of apps at events large and small, with many integrating registration, meeting scheduling, surveys and social media into the mix. A Smart Meeting survey in October showed most attendees are not just using the greener alternative to a conference book, they are asking for it. Look for AI and AR to make these palm-size tools even more helpful.

2. Light, Casual and High Buildings

Buildings are morphing to better serve the needs of attendees. No more dark basement ballrooms. Meeting rooms built in 2017 almost always included floor-to-ceiling windows with lots of natural light (and curtains to block it when the presentation requires). Both new builds and redesigns completed in 2017 also almost always included lounging areas inside or outside the main meeting room, so attendees can mingle casually, rather than being confined to rows of fixed, straight-back chairs. Bonus points if the colorful furniture can be customized to fit the event theme. Rooftop bars topped just about every new project, regardless of the climate. From Parq Vancouver (which features an elevated outdoor urban park) to InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown (The Sky Deck on the top floor makes views of L.A. a special guest at any meeting), these cocktail party favorites offer drone views of cities from coast to coast.

3. The Custom Food Craze

Catering to individual dietary restrictions also became a must-have in 2017. Our Smart Meeting survey showed an overwhelming majority (77%) agreeing vegan and gluten-free options at meetings will be the new normal. Instead of large, sit-down meals offering chicken or steak, the standard has veered toward make-your-own pizza stations or a variety of bites circulated at a stand-up gathering—as six small meals are peppered throughout the day to keep energy levels steady. Stephanie Edens, senior vice president of national sales for Wolfgang Puck Catering in Las Vegas says, “The siracha bottle is not going to go away. Everyone wants control of what they are eating.”

4. Safety First

Keeping guests safe has always been a requirement, but balancing security efforts with guest comfort and convenience became a creative challenge of the highest order in 2017. From decisions about hiring uniformed guards to coordinating with local law enforcement and monitoring badges and packages, pros and cons are actively being weighed. We have seen that lives depend on it. Now add sexual harassment policies to the things-to-consider list. Just stating that you embrace inclusiveness and do not tolerate bullying is not enough. Organizations are finding it necessary to define what is and isn’t tolerated, train regularly about appropriate behavior, have a clear system for reporting inappropriate behavior and act quickly to investigate any claims with carefully outlined disciplinary procedures enforced. “It is important to remember that reports of sexual harassment involve real people with real emotions, and these instances effect lives,” concluded an Allied PRA report on the topic.